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Photo: Devastation in Aceh.

Updates from FCJ Sisters working with Tsunami victims in Aceh Province, Indonesia

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Holy Thursday 2005—Excerpts from a Letter of Katherine Mary O'Flynn, General Superior

Photo: "I Thirst" Crucifix.Greetings from Indonesia where Susan and I are spending Holy Week with our sisters.  We are very much united with each one as we celebrate today, the beginning of our Society. 

I am sure that Marie Madeleine is rejoicing with us as we give thanks for all that we have received through her generous response as she knelt before the Altar of Repose on Holy Thursday, March 30, 1820.

I would like to share something of a unique and heart wrenching experience during this season of Passiontide.  Last week, Barbara Brown-Graham accompanied Susan and myself to visit our four FCJ sisters who have been working with the Jesuit Relief Services in North Sumatra and Aceh since early January.

During this time we visited the city of Banda Aceh where Yustin has worked with JRS for the last two months.  As you will remember from the news of the tsunami, much of Banda Aceh as a city was devastated and over a third of its population was drowned. 

Joseph, a young man whose wife and 8 month old baby were drowned, drove us around what was left of what seemed to have been quite a prosperous city.  The title of the recent Congress in Rome on Religious Life kept ringing in my ears: “Passion for Christ, Passion for Humanity”.  However what we saw was rather “the passion of Christ, the passion of humanity and the passion of our earth.


Pictures of the devastation in Aceh.The annihilation and destruction of human life and all that is associated with life, alongside the utter obliteration and wreckage of a beautiful landscape is hard to imagine.

When we finally visited the little concrete patch where Joseph’s house once stood, we wept as he lovingly gazed at what had been his life and the life of his loved Photo: Man standing beside the remnants of his house.ones.







Before our eyes now stretched a vast desolate wasteland where once thousands of people lived and got on with their simple lives.  Joseph prayed with us and later told us that he had cried as we prayed.  His only hope is that he firmly believes his wife and child are now safely with God in heaven.

Photos of the FCJ Group in Aceh.As we reflected later, we knew as Faithful Companions of Jesus, we had been to another Golgotha and that our sisters, Afra, Dewi, Narni and Yustin have been standing by the foot of the Cross in a particular way in these months. The stories which they shared with us were deeply moving.

However despite the enormity of the suffering and trauma which they witness, each one referred in some way to the resilience of the people, the generosity and courage of those working with Relief Agencies and the many other signs of hope and new life which they find all around them. 

Many people are slowly beginning to put together some little dwelling for themselves.  Some of the streets which were once covered with debris are being restored to some order.

Human corpses are being taken from the streets and from the rivers and given a respectful burial.  As we drove along, we saw the first shoots of new growth on sticks which were being used as emergency fencing … surely a sign of the resurrection!

Needless to say, there is a Photo: Setting up a new shop under the shelter of a washed-up ship.long way to go as yet for the people of Aceh.

We entered into the Paschal Mystery in a very real way as we shared with our sisters on the eve of Passion Sunday.  This mystery which all of us live in many varying ways in our daily lives and in diverse places, is surely what inspires us as Faithful Companions of Jesus.  Where do we find strength to live this mystery?  It is no coincidence that Marie Madeleine founded our Society on Holy Thursday, the day on which Jesus gave us his body and blood in the Eucharist.

Setting up a new shop
under the shelter of a washed-up ship

Photo: A mosque in Aceh.It is very moving to hear how much our sisters, who work in Aceh, often alone in an area which is almost one hundred percent Muslim, miss the opportunity to participate at the Eucharist.  When they have the opportunity, they treasure it with great joy and are strengthened for the days ahead. 

This year as we mark the Year of the Eucharist, we have an opportunity to give thanks for such a gift and to continue to deepen its meaning in our lives.Photo/graphic: Rice ready for harvest. 

Writing of his experience of Asia, A.M. Sutrishaatmaka, MSF, an Indonesian theologian, says: 
“Eucharist gives us the inspiration as well as the strength to free ourselves from poverty and hunger, from injustice, and oppression, from discrimination and from conflict and division”. 

May our celebration of Eucharist as Faithful Companions of Jesus always be connected with the reality of our lives, our struggles and our witness to hope in the resurrection.  Let us pray for one another this Eastertide that we, with Marie Madeleine and her patron Mary Magdalene, may respond to Jesus as he tells us:  “Go and tell my sisters and brothers that I have risen.”


MAY 2005 – Narni's experiences in East Aceh

Langsa is a small city and I stayed with my friend Sr. Baptista PI (Sister of Divine Providence).  The majority of the people of Langsa are Muslim.   accompanied internally displaced peoples (IDPs) who lived with their families, but who came from the other areas affected by the Tsunami.  Their living conditions were not good. Some of them stayed with poor families. They couldn’t go back to their houses because all that they had was destroyed. My activities involved accompanying IDPs, giving support to encourage children to return to school and helping with income generating activities. I had to work in cooperation with local NGOs, Islamic Students and Government Institutions. At first, it was not easy to make new programmes in Langsa because of the issues of religion and politics. I worked on JRS trauma healing programs for one area but they didn’t work, so we visited IDPs door to door and  gave support personally. In this process, we tried to coordinate with others, local NGOs and Government institutions.

I also went to other isolated parts of East Aceh : to Kuala Idi Cut and Simpang Ulim.  On behalf JRS, I tried to offer programmes there. There are many IDPs whose houses were destroyed by the Tsunami, because they lived near the Sea of Malaka . They stayed in camps, in tents and baraks (little simple huts made from wood). They are very poor and some of them were sick. They had big families; women, men and children lived together in small rooms with no privacy. It’s difficult to find clean water in this area. Many people worked as fishermen, but they lost all their fishing equipment in the tsunami.

In Kuala Idi cut, there are 42 families, and many were traumatized by the earthquake and tsunami. Some of them felt afraid to sleep in their homes. Although some houses were repaired, the people choose to sleep together in the camps.  There were many children who couldn’t go to school and we tried to support them. Sometimes I had a problem communicating with Acehnese people because some of them couldn’t understand my Indonesian language. The children were interested in joining us to learn and play together and one of them explained what we were talking about.  They looked happy and had hope for their future.

Diana, a young woman (17 years old) told me that she couldn’t finish Elementary School because she had to help her mother and accompany many children in their study of the Islamic religion (mengaji).  She is motivated to study and she is very diligent.  She was glad when we offered alternative education in the camps.

The physical condition of people in Kuala Idi Cut and Simpang Ulim is very poor. Usually they had problems with the stomach or skin, because they were affected by the dirty water of the Tsunami. At first we sent medicine for them. After that we tried coordinating with a local doctor in East Aceh . We tried to offer them health assessments once a week. JRS supported this work with medicine and provided the equipment needed to make assessments. The local people were pleased because many visitors gave attention and help to them.

In Simpang Ulim there are 143 families. They were relocated in a new place about 9 kilometres from the sea.  They stayed in many baraks. Kasiran, a man (50 years old) lived in Barak Simpang Ulim with his wife. He said to me “it’s like fresh wind” receiving help from others gave him new hope. Kasiran’s life is full of struggle because of the military conflict area and because of the tsunami. His house was destroyed three times and the family lost many things, but he still has hope and believes his family can survive. He wants to built a new house and go back to his area near the sea. He said “The sea is my life and I am not afraid of the sea”. He continued “The tsunami was a disaster but I trust in God”. That touched me very much. I understood his desire to return to his home and work because he was a fisherman for a long time and his family lives from his earnings. Kasiran is a strong man, he has faith and hope in the difficult times.

I have precious memories of sharing with IDPs in Aceh. I felt God touched me and taught me many things through them.   I was very touched by their strength to accept their way of life now, by their ability to give meaning to life and still keep their hope alive. I thank God that I was able to share in their pain and suffering and to learn from them. God is every where and in all things at all times.

Narni, n.fcJ


MARCH 2005 – News from Dewi

My name is Dewi. I am a postulant in FCJ Asia Australia. I am really grateful that I got the opportunity to work here in JRS (Jesuit Refugee Service) in Medan . JRS has 2 offices in Sumatera, one in Medan and one in BandaAceh (Aceh). In  this post earthquake and Tsunami in Aceh, JRS office in Medan focuses on supporting the JRS Office in Aceh. JRS is also opening offices outside Banda Aceh - just for projects. They are in Meulaboh, Tapaktuan and Lamno.

My task here in Medan is to help find and buy supplies to support Banda Aceh and other towns. I also accompany 3 people who are in Elisabeth Hospital in Medan . JRS is supporting them to get medical help and surgery since they come from small towns and the hospital cannot help them. Sometime it’s not easy for me, because I don’t know what will happen to them if their surgery will be a success or if they need more surgery, or how long will they be there. The 3 people are:  Mirdalisma, 15 year old girl who has got a tumor in her upper left hand; Bobby, 5 year old boy who got badly wounded during the tsunami; and Yusnidar, 27 year old woman who has got a tumor in her right hand. After accompanying them for a few weeks I realize how brave they are in living their life everyday in pain.

Sometimes I go to the Tsunami Victims camps in Medan (there are a few here) and talk with them, just to let them share their feelings and sad experiences during the Tsunami. They really need someone to talk to.

Well that is me.

Sr. Narni is now in Langsa with 2 others. This place was not struck by  the Tsunami but many Tsunami victims from other cities came there. They are helping people in the small towns around Langsa (like Simpang Ulim and Idi Cut). It’s not easy to work in Langsa because we are Catholic, but they have great spirit to do it.

Sr. Yustin is a busy treasurer in Banda Aceh. I can say there are more activities in Banda Aceh since they have to interact directly with tsunami victims most of the time and Yustin has to support the volunteers and staffs with some supplies and money.

Sr Afra, FCJ, is in Meulaboh, setting up an office for JRS. She is doing great work there - making connection with local NGO’s, helping them and helping the tsunami’s victims.  We in (JRS) do many things to help people in simple but meaningful ways.

In companionship,
Dewi Gallang


MARCH 2005 – Letter from Narni

Thank you so much for your loving kindness and special prayer every single day for us. I want to share my experiences in Langsa Aceh Timur.

This is a story about my experiences in Langsa and the other place in East Aceh where I live now. I hope you enjoy reading it.

On February 10th, 2005, I and Bas (a Sister of Divine Providence) were sent to Langsa, East Aceh. I, Dewi and Bas had been making assessments before that for one week in Langsa. We will follow up that assessment now. The planning program is trauma healing for many refugees, particularly in one place (Gampong Tengoh) that needs it. The refugees there stay with their familes.

The situation in this area is very sensitive about religion and politics, because for a long time it has been an area of conflict. Many people in Aceh appeared to be careful with new people or NGO’s from other areas. Another fear is the issue of Christianization by some NGO’s in Aceh.

Some efforts have been made to network with local people, another institution PMI, HMI (Local NGO), new people as contact persons, etc. in the new area. We struggled with government bureaucracy to get a permit for a long term program.

I have built up good relations with many new people and groups, and I have done some community building with others. The situation has taught me to be more sensitive and to be a positive thinker. I think that there are plenty of opportunities to grow. but sometimes it is not easy for me.

I was really touched by one of my experiences when I visited many refugee in Idi Cut (an area outside Langsa). The refugees stay in camps, and the location is near the beach. There are many children and women, with no activities. Their houses were destroyed by the Tsunami. I saw some that were very poor and sick. Many children couldn’t go to school, with no motivation from their parents. They looked happy when we arrived.. I spent time chatting with some of them, playing ball with the children and talking with the leader of village. It gave great hope (for me and for them). The first time when we visited them, we didn’t bring anything. The basic need is food. God is good because I, Bas, Ivo and Puji from JRS Medan went to the same place for the second time. We brought some rice, oil, soap, medicine and what they needed. They were so happy and very enthusiastic when we shared the goods with them.There are 42 families of refugee there.

Trauma healing in Langsa is a long process and we have done many other activities:


JANUARY 2005 – Letter from Afra

Salam damai Kristus

In three days we visited 20 places, most of them were registered as refugee camps and the rest were hospitals and coordination centers. There were 13 camps that we checked, and we found out that most of the refugees in Medan are living with their families (so that the camps are quite empty). I saw that there the supply of food and clothes are plenty. Better to stop it at the moment, at least for the refugees in Medan. Most children have been registered and gone to schools nearby (for free). Those who are sick are taken into hospitals. Even the hospitals give free food for the families who are accompanying the sick persons. The immunization has begun since January 5.

In general, the refugees in Medan are cared well. One doctor from Malaysia was amazed with how advanced we manage the situation here (regards to food, health care and education). Maybe (just my theory) this is because we have so many experiences in handling the refugees in areas of conflict in Indonesia (East Timor, Moluccas, Celebes, Aceh etc). This is not a success....

Now that we know that the refugees in Medan are OK, we are thinking about the refugees at the border of Aceh and North Sumatera provinces. There was a cry for help from Langsa, about 3 - 4 hours from Medan to the north (already in Aceh province). There are more than 4,000 IDPs (internally displaced people). Our contact person there is concerned that the longer they stay without doing anything the more difficult it is to heal their traumas. Next week we are going there to see what could be done (examples: activities for women such as learning how to cook, consultation, etc).

This afternoon I saw on Metro TV, a video record showing the water coming into town, people climbed anything they could, cars turned upside down.... I was wondering whether this video record is also broadcasted on other channels (because like us in Purwokerto we cannot get into Metro TV).

Many people here asked what is their sin that this disaster happened. Some songs have lyrics like "forgive us, God, because we have sinned"..... For some of our brothers and sisters, the good believers are people who live healthy and wealthy. It is difficult for them to understand that God could do this to them and to the area that is known as Mecca Terrace.

I still believe in a loving and faithful God. Our God is not God who punishes people....and I long to share this with our sisters and brothers....

Shalom, afra


JANUARY 2005 – Extracts from Narni's e-mails— 12 January 2005

It was a moving experience for me when I visited some refugee centres and I saw many people had lost their families. There were many pictures and lists of missing people in every corner of these places. One day I visited and accompanied a 15 year old boy (Suwardi) who was hospitalized in Malahayati Hospital in Medan. His leg was amputated and his stomach was operated on because a big bough of wood fell upon it; and he is alone because the members of his family were missing. When I visited him for the second time, he spoke quite a lot. You can read his story in Kompas (Daily Newspaper) January 11.

I think there are other children like him in many places. So far, all of us still want to follow up the results of our activities and we are grateful because there are many opportunities to learn from each other, to complement and to share with each other.

January 17, 2005

There are some new and interesting experiences for me. We, Afra, Dewi, one PI sister and I still continue to seek some information about the refugees in Medan . Beside that, we bought basic needs, like rice, milk, food, babies’ products and underwear to be sent to the refugees in Aceh, Meulaboh and other places. It seems that JRS, with its limited personnel, is very busy in buying and sending goods to those areas. So, these days, we are all involved in this delivery activity.

There was an interesting experience for me when I delivered some goods to Banda Aceh with one PI sister and a driver. On the journey, we passed the places that were hit by the tsunami. When we were in Aceh, we saw a situation which was very different from that of Medan . The city was quiet; and there were many camps of refugees in many places. We were checked by the army four times on the way to and from Banda Aceh. The security was so strict. I had the opportunity to visit the JRS office where Yustin works. In that place, there were many volunteers. I saw some Aceh people coming to that office to ask for some medicine because there were some nurses there. We saw the total destruction of the city of Banda Aceh . The process of clearing the ruins has not finished yet. There were also many army personnel who kept the security around the city. There were also some families who just visited the ruin of their houses and they tried to find the remains of their things beneath the soil.

I had another opportunity to visit Suwardi again in Malahayati Hospital to see and accompany him. When I visited him there was a moving incident. At that time he met his uncle (the other members of his family were still missing). I witnessed their joy of seeing each other after they were separated for a long time. I was full of gratitude to see that, and I am happy for Suwardi’s future.


JANUARY 2005 – Extracts from Narni's letter

Dewi and I still do the assessments about the refugees. We can’t accompany all of them, even though there are many, because of the time and people in the camp or hospital. It was sad when we visited the victims in a Moslem hospital, Adam Madik, Medan . There are many children and adults there who have had amputations. They have lost everything and are confused about their future.

Last week, we went to East Aceh, Langsa. There were many refugees there living with family members. The situation there is not very safe. Once when we surveyed a family we heard several  gunshots and in some places they asked us not to go out after 8pm . Because of this situation we cancelled our plans to go to all areas in West Aceh.

We can get some data from local government. The people who have moved from one area to another are many. One woman reporter from Aceh helps us and gives us information about the location of refugees.

Students have begun to register for study but there are many who come and go to Banda Aceh and Langsa. There are some programmes which provide activities for them, eg. trauma healing programme. Up to now, the donations like rice, instant noodle, oil, is still being distributed but not to all places.


My Experiences in Aceh - Yustina Tukiyem, nfcJ

When I was asked to go Aceh to join with Jesuit Refugee Services ( JRS ) as a volunteer, my response was “ Yes” spontaneously. After  praying and reflecting on it, my response was still “yes” as well. It was very clear to me that this is where the “I Thirst” of Jesus was, and I would like to respond to that “ I Thirst” in Aceh. Besides, I thought that it will be a new expereince in my life and also a pilgrimage experience.

I left for Banda Aceh from Medan on 9th January 2005  by bus and it took twelve hours. I could not enjoy the scenery on the journey as I was sleeping almost all the time.  I went to Banda Aceh with two sisters of Divine Providence who wanted to see the destruction caused by the tsunami. I worked at Jesuit Refugee Services (JRS), and lived with other volunteers (about thirty) in JRS small house.

The first day in Banda Aceh, I wandered around the places that had been destroyed by the tsunami. Banda Aceh is the capital city of Aceh. The road in the centre of the city, the shopping centre, called Peunayong, were so dirty, dusty and the smell was not good. The destruction was so terrible that Banda Aceh became a dead city.

The refugees live in camps around Banda Aceh and outside. They were staying in the tents. They did not have private space because some families lived in one big tent. They had two or three public kitchens in one area and took turns in cooking. They got their basic needs from some Non Government Organizations (NGO) and  International NGO that worked there. 

After two months, the situation was getting better. The shopping centre and the traditional market moved to another place. The city activities was starting to get busy, also the traffic. Some people already went back to Banda Aceh to rebuild their houses and opened  their business. Some opened their shop after cleaning and repairing it. Some fishermen, who lived near the sea and still had boats, repaired their boats and catched the fish again.

After about two months in Banda Aceh, I moved to Lamno in the west coast. All villages along the west coast in Lamno were terribly damaged. One of the villages was a village called “Blue Eyes” village because people there have blue eyes for they are of  Spanish descent. This village was destroyed with less than fifteen people left, who now live in camps. In Lamno, we (JRS) gave medical service and shelter to these people and helped them in developing their economic activities such as farming and fishing.

The thing that touched me about the people there was their patience to accept their sufferings. Their sufferings united them as a people. Most of them tried to rebuild their lives and not just accept their suffering and waiting for help from others. They needed help materially because most of them lost everything, but they continue to build their lives so that later they will be independent and not depend on others for help. Their efforts were so great. They cleaned their land and built a simple house together. In spite of there suffering, they were ready to help others.

While many people were suffering and lost everything ( house, families, job, etc.)  some people took advantage of this situation. Many NGOs and INGOs came to Aceh to help people there, so they needed houses to live in. People whose area was not damaged and still had houses, rented their houses to them. People hold the economic principle, that is if the demand increases, the price will also increase. The price of renting a good house normally was ten million rupiah per year, but now it is twenty five million rupiah per  month. It was very sad to see this.

Where is God in such a situation? God moved many people from outside and inside Aceh to help victims. They shared their riches (materially and spiritually) with others who needed it. Their efforts to rebuild their lifes is like Resurrection, after death they rose again. There was new life. They had hope. God never forget His people.

I thank God and the FCJ Society for this opportunity  to be able to respond to the “I Thirst” of Jesus in His people in Aceh.


More scenes from Aceh.
Yustin sorting medication for patients, Medical service in Lamno,
Abdulrahman, tsunami victim, coping with cancer, New houses being built in Aceh


Reports / Stories from Jesuit Refugee Service, Indonesia

January 2005: Report

Hanging From a Banana Tree

Building a Shattered Life

JRS Situation Report—January 14

JRS Situation Report—January 10


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Unsere kleine Gemeinschaft hat das Ziel,
     mit allen Mitteln ihrer Macht
           das Herz Jesus zu ehren ...     (Marie Madeleine)